Crushes: Hot for Someone You Cannot Have?

What to do when you're distracted by a crush and how to stay chill.

Posted Jun 29, 2020

Being attracted to people other than your partner is inevitable; we are surrounded by attractive people, some of whom we spend far more time with than we do our partners. The pressure to have eyes only for our "one and only" is pretty intense, but fear not.

Developing an attraction to someone else in your life does not spell impending relationship doom, whether it be the barista who knows exactly how to serve your morning cappuccino, the personal trainer who is the only person who can motivate you to work out, or the colleague who takes the dinner orders when everyone is working late.

Research indicates that adults in relationships who develop an attraction to someone else (let's call it a "crush" despite the diminutive associations given to that term) mostly experience the crush as entertainment—someone to distract you, someone to add a little magic unicorn sparkle dust to your day, someone to inspire you to make the effort in dressing, presenting, or finalizing that report. All good. No negative impact overall.

Linkedin Sales Navigator/Unsplash
You're taken, they're taken, we're all taken...
Source: Linkedin Sales Navigator/Unsplash

Six fun facts:

  1. Most people (80 percent) have had a crush on someone other than their partner at some point in their relationship and 61 percent report having a current crush.
  2. Few people report that their crush is an ex (4 percent); usually, it's an acquaintance or casual friend (61 percent), typically met through work.
  3. The crush is often a focus for sexual fantasy, 43 percent report fantasizing about the person once a week or more.
  4. Do we *really* wish we could have sex with a crush? Only 34 percent say yes. But would we if we were guaranteed our partner could never ever find out and the opportunity arose? Only 17 percent say yes.
  5. Few (17 percent) would leave their partner for a crush (and these people tended to have worse relationships in the first place).
  6. And here's the most important point: Having a crush (versus no crush) does not reveal any differences in the level of relationship satisfaction, sexual satisfaction, commitment, or level of intimacy in one's primary relationship.

In short, crushes appear to be mostly for fun, a little harmless spice.  

But, (there's always a *but* in my reports), having a crush is fine until, well, it isn't. For a small pocket of people, having a crush while in a primary relationship might be linked to higher odds of infidelity. (Infidelity has to start somewhere; it rarely occurs out of the blue). However, these are people who show other tendencies to be drawn to attractive others, including higher levels of sociosexuality (a personality trait linked to interest and propensity toward sex outside of committed contexts).

Bottom line: Attraction to others in the form of a crush, from a distance, while in a monogamous relationship seems mostly harmless and likely has positive benefits. 

Communicating one's interest to the crush target, well, that's not such a great idea.  More about that slippery slope soon.

Iona Cristiana/Unsplash
Most people in relationships have a crush on someone else
Source: Iona Cristiana/Unsplash


Belu, C. F., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2019).  Roving eyes: Predictors of crushes in ongoing romantic relationships and implications for relationship quality. Journal of Relationship Research, 10, e2. doi: 10.1017/jrr.2018.21

Belu, C. F., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2018). Why find my own when I can take yours?: The quality of relationships that arise from successful mate poaching. Journal of Relationship Research, 9, e6, 1-10. doi: 10.1017/jrr.2018.5

Mullinax M., Barnhart K.J., Mark K., & Herbenick D. (2016). Women’s experiences with feelings and attractions for someone outside their primary relationship. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 1–17. doi:10.1080/ 0092623X.2015.1061076